Kate Bush Director's Cut(Fish People) Buy it from Insound
Unlike many of her contemporaries, Kate Bush has realised the best way to cement National Treasure status is to mostly keep shtum. By removing herself from the usual album release-tour schedule (and, of course, by being an exceptionally talented and original artist), every one of her sporadic communications becomes worthy of rejoicing and dancing in the streets. And with the celebratory peal of bells that opens Director's Cut, her first album in five years, she's knowingly providing the soundtrack to the festivities. Or at least that would be the case if the exact same recording hadn't also opened her 1989 album The Sensual World.
While it's common knowledge that Bush's latest is merely a reworking of tracks from that record and 1993's The Red Shoes, it's surprising just how unchanged a lot of it appears to be. Opening track The Flower of the Mountain, for example, is a fairly unaltered take on The Sensual World's title track, with the main difference being that the lyrics are (mostly) replaced with a James Joyce quotation that Bush was denied permission to use originally. And it wouldn't be wrong to question why she was so keen to use it as, having never been intended to be used as lyrics, these passages don't flow as elegantly as those that Bush had to write in their place.
That's not to say that Director's Cut was completely uncalled for. Both The Sensual World and The Red Shoes were fairly overlooked parts of Bush's oeuvre, and it's not like there wasn't room for improvement. In particular the production work on The Red Shoes, like that of most early 90's pop, has aged badly. It's not like she's had a moment of madness and decided to desecrate Hounds of Love. But it would be tempting to label the album as something of a missed opportunity – who wouldn't have wanted to hear Bush take on dub-step, or at least get rid of the new-age panpipe intro to And so is Love?
Once the initial disappointment dissipates however, the most striking thing about Director's Cut is what a fine collection of songs it is. Oddly, the weakest track here is its lead single Deeper Understanding, presumably promoted to such a status as its lyrics provide a perfect example of how ahead of her time Bush was, and included on the album in the first place as she wasn't able to get a desired vocal effect until auto-tune was invented (who would've thought that Cher's Believe was a genuinely trailblazing song?). But, even if the lyrics now seem dated, and the auto-tune's a little on the nose, there are still some very interesting ideas here. While keeping the original's best feature largely unaltered (the backing vocals from Bulgarian folk act Trio Bulgarka, who also feature on The Song of Solomon), the closing minutes add in a harmonica/vocal breakdown that's far more dramatic than the body of the song that preceded it. And as for the songs that stay the closest to their originals – play both takes on The Red Shoes through side by side and see if you can spot the difference – well, there wasn't much wrong with them, other than the paper thin production, in the first place.
Perhaps the most significant thing that Director's Cut offers is context. Not just the context of an album – which it is being touted as, rather than a mere compilation – but the context of era, in how technological limitations of the time affect a composer's original intentions (Lily and Top of the City finally get to fulfil their bombastic potential thanks to the thicker production). The most interesting though is the context of the performer's age as, twenty odd years on from their writing, these songs now carry very different meanings. Take, for example, Moments of Pleasure, which may have always had rather dark lyrics but was rendered into something of a romantic fancy thanks to the syrupy strings of the original version. The new take is slower, simpler and, delivered in Bush's older, deeper voice, more devastating. Elsewhere This Woman's Work (which was heartbreaking in 1989 and remains so now) removes the song's more desperate lyrics, leaving a sense of world-weariness. Not that all of these re-workings are so defeatist - the fiery passion of The Song of Solomon is even more prominent in Bush's re-recorded vocals. Considering how rare a subject the sexuality of the middle-aged woman is in pop music (and culture in general) it may in fact mark her out as something of a revolutionary.
All in all, the celebratory attitude is the right one to take for Director's Cut. Die-hard fans of the original albums may well feel a bit hard-done by, but those who didn't warm to Bush first time around, or are new to her work should find plenty to admire here. Even if isn't the radical reworking the early word, or the title, suggested it would be – in fact to stretch the film metaphor further, it's more a Lucas/Spielbergian 'special edition' than a 'director's cut' (although without anything as egregious as a Greedo shooting first) – it is an endearingly nerdy artistic urge that's worth indulging. However, if she decides to re-release The Line, the Cross and the Curve in 3D, then perhaps it'll be time to put our collective feet down.31 May, 2011 - 11:31 — Mark Davison